When it comes to theatre, Chicago is second city to none. You’ll find some 250 theaters in the Chicago region, from small storefront community theaters to established Tony award-winners like Steppenwolf. In addition, there are dazzling downtown touring Broadway productions, like Hamilton. Throw into this mix a handful of fantastic children’s Chicago theater companies as well. Here are the most noteworthy Windy City children’s theaters and their upcoming productions for 2017.
Coming to Chicago with kids? Any visit to the Windy City should include a big time theater performance. Here are a few of your best options:
Chicago Children’s Theater
Chicago theater in the Loop has pricey Broadway style productions. But just west of the Loop is the brand new home of the Chicago Children’s Theater. They put on imaginative, world class productions for kids, that are just as enjoyable for adults. They just finished a multi-million dollar repurposing of an old police station, turning it into their new theater.
I’ve seen a number of their productions over the years, and they never disappoint. Their most recent, “The Magic City,” is a bittersweet fable about family and sacrifice. Creative shadow puppetry brings to life the fears and hopes of the main character, a young girl who has lost her parents and is being raised by her older sister. I attended with my husband and eight year-old daughter. All three of us were charmed by the play.
Bravo to the Chicago Children’s Theater directors and equity actors for always putting on a show that both kids and their accompanying adults can find entertaining. What does it mean to be equity theater? It means that unlike community theater, these are professional actors who belong to an actor’s union. You can count on them taking their job, the performance, seriously. Other upcoming performances are “Pinocchio,” playing from April 20 – May 7, 2017, and “Brown Bear, Brown Bear,” at their old home, the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, from May 2 – May 28, 2017.
Emerald City Theatre
Younger children will enjoy a heartwarming production of the classic children’s book, “The Snowy Day,” at Lincoln Park’s Emerald City Theatre Company. This group is best known for their silly adaptations of well known stories and fairy tales. “The Snowy Day” is intended for kids ages 3-9. It runs through April 22 at the Apollo Theatre on Southport Avenue. Tickets start at $19.
Following “The Snowy Day,” comes a show that would seem only natural for a theater named Emerald City… “The Wiz”. This funky adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz” includes songs like “Ease on Down the Road” from the 70’s movie with Michael Jackson that some of us might be willing to admit we remember!
“The Wiz” runs from March 25- June 8, 2017 and is recommended for ages 5-12.
Opera for kids? Seems like I’m kidding? No, I’m not. Chicago’s Lyric Opera does annual children’s production. This season it was “The Magic Flute.” They also do an annual performance that’s part of the American Musical Initiative. Past productions included “Oklahoma,” “The King and I,” and “The Sound of Music.” Now they’re bringing Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle to life.
My fair eight year-old and I can’t wait for the Lyric Opera’s take on the Lerner and Loewe classic, “My Fair Lady.” This is a great way to introduce children to the joys of beloved American musicals. Songs like “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “On the Street Where You Live” should make it a night to remember. Not only is the music memorable, but the opera house also is a work of art itself. Nights like this are when I feel so thankful to be raising my kids in a big city, with easy access to first-rate cultural events.
“My Fair Lady” runs April 28-May 21, 2017 at Lyric’s Civic Opera House. Tickets range from $33- $200.
Marriott Theatre for Young Audiences in Lincolnshire
This suburban theater, a half hour north of Chicago and O’Hare Airport, is located at the Lincolnshire Marriott Resort. It presents Broadway musicals like “Annie” and “Mary Poppins,” as well as classic fairy tales.
A gloomy Midwest winter day is brighter because of their fun production of “Madagascar- A Musical Adventure.” The show’s great for all ages. My eight-year-old loves the elaborate costumes and wacky antics. Animals escaping from their home in New York’s Central Park Zoo find themselves on an unexpected journey that includes dancing to upbeat songs like, “Move It, Move It.”
Also noteworthy… the Marriott Theatre is set up in the round. That means it’s a circular stage surrounded by the audience. With only nine rows, there is literally no bad seat in the house. The theatre in the round design sets the stage for a highly interactive performance. Since there is no backstage, actors and sets enter the stage through the audience and occasionally interact on the way.
“Madagascar-A Musical Adventure” runs most Tuesdays through Sundays at 10 a.m. with certain performances at 12:30 p.m. Single tickets are $17.